Canada’s credit card market saw some dramatic changes in 2017. Rewards programs were altered, popular cards were discontinued, and one new game-changer card joined the market.
Travel rewards credit cards continue to be very popular amongst Canadians — who doesn’t want to travel for free? The problem is, there are so many different cards and programs that it can be difficult to figure out which is the best for you.
To make things easier, we’re highlighting the best travel credit cards in Canada for 2018.
Ratehub.ca’s best travel credit cards in Canada
- Best overall travel rewards card: Scotiabank Gold American Express
- Best overall runner-up: BMO World Elite MasterCard
- Best new rewards card: American Express Cobalt Card
- Best hotel rewards card: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
- No foreign transaction fee: Home Trust Preferred Visa
- Best no fee travel rewards cards: Blue Sky Credit Card, Scotiabank American Express Card
Best overall travel rewards card
With a 4% earn on gas, groceries, restaurants, and entertainment, the Scotiabank Gold American Express consistently ranks as one of the best travel rewards cards in Canada. The 25,000 bonus you get for spending $1,000 in everyday purchases in the first three months has a value of $250, which you can redeem towards any type of travel (flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, vacation packages), as well as gift cards and merchandise from retailers such as Apple and Best Buy.
When booking your travel, you can choose to use Scotia Rewards’ full-service travel agency, or charge your travel expenses to your card and redeem points later to cover the costs. There are no restrictions for redeeming travel — you can book anywhere, anytime, and use points to cover all taxes and fees. There are several additional benefits including comprehensive travel insurance, concierge service, Priority Pass membership (renewed annually), price protection, and much more.
Best overall runner-up
The BMO World Elite MasterCard is another popular travel rewards card, giving you three BMO Rewards points per $1 spent on travel, restaurants, and entertainment, and two points per dollar on everything else.
The card includes a number of great features including a Priority Pass standard membership with four complimentary passes per year, allowing you VIP airport lounge access in more than 400 cities across the world (valued at USD$200). It also has comprehensive travel insurance package, and no blackout dates when redeeming for travel.
The card’s $150 annual fee is waived for the first year for new accounts opened by April 30, 2018.
Note: Updated to include changes to the BMO Rewards program effective Jan. 15, 2018.
Best new rewards card
When the American Express Cobalt Card was introduced, many Canadians felt the card was an instant game-changer. Earning 5 points for every $1 spent on restaurants, groceries, and food delivery was very aggressive. The $10 monthly fee was also a unique take on the card as it felt more like a subscription service where cardholders could earn extra points with their monthly spending and still have ability to cancel at any time without a penalty.
It should be noted that the Membership Rewards points earned are of a lower category compared to other American Express cards, but they’re valuable nonetheless. For every 1,000 points, you can redeem $10 in travel, which works out to a 5% return on food and drink purchases. Non travel redemption gets you $7 for every 1,000 points — or a 3.5% return — which is comparable to some of the best cash-back cards. In addition, you can transfer your Membership Rewards points to Starwood (SPG) points at a 2:1 ratio.
Best hotel rewards card
Most travel cards focus on flights or flexible travel rewards, but the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is all about hotels. What makes the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program so appealing is the fact that all the hotels have a category number and require a fixed amount of points to get a free night. That 20,000 signup bonus could be worth two nights in a category 4 hotel or five nights in a category 2 hotel. The value of those stays can be quite lucrative which makes the annual fee easier to accept.
Remember: Marriott bought Starwood, so the individual rewards programs can now be combined. You can transfer your Starwood points to Marriott Rewards at 1:3 ratio. This gives you access to even more properties to use your points. You also have the option to transfer your Starpoints to more than 30 airline loyalty programs at a 1:1 ratio. For every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer to an airline, you’ll get a bonus 5,000 points making your ratio 1:1:25.
No foreign exchange fee
Home Trust is mostly known for offering mortgages, but their credit card portfolio has grown over the last few years. The Home Trust Preferred Visa was introduced to the market last year with little fanfare, but it’s one of the best travel cards in Canada because it has no annual fee, and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees — when you make a purchase in a foreign country or in a currency other than CAD/USD, most cards tack on a 2.5%-3% surcharge.
Before this card was introduced, only the Amazon.ca Visa offered no foreign transaction fees with no annual fee, but it was discontinued in early 2017. Cardholders were grandfathered, but new applicants were out of luck. The Home Trust Preferred Visa fills a need in the market so if you do a lot of shopping in a foreign currency, consider this card.
Best no fee travel rewards cards
The Blue Sky Credit Card has a lot of flexibility and a stellar earn rate for a no-fee travel card: 1.25 Blue Sky points for every $1 spent on the card. Every 100 points is worth $1 in rewards. Points can be redeemed in increments of 5,000 starting with little as 10,000 points (worth $100 in travel rewards).
This card is comparable to its premium counterparts: There are no blackout dates, and you can book through any airline, carrier, or travel agency. You can also book your trip first and apply your points to cover the cost later — up to one year after your purchase. It also includes up to $100,000 in travel accident insurance coverage.
You can also earn bonus points by referring friends. For each approved referral, you’ll get 5,000 Blue Sky points.
With no annual fee for extras or privileges, the Scotiabank American Express Card works as both a standalone card, or as a secondary card for existing Scotia Rewards collectors. Every dollar spent on the card earns you one Scotia Rewards point, redeemable for travel (flights, hotels, cruises, car rentals, and vacation packages), merchandise (including Apple and Best Buy catalogues), gift cards, or as a credit on your monthly card statement.
For a no-fee card, it has strong travel insurance coverage: Travel emergency medical (up to $1 million in coverage for up to eight consecutive days of travel), travel interruption insurance and travel accident insurance (when you charge at least 75% of trip costs to your card), and car rental collision/loss damage (up to 48 consecutive days of coverage for vehicles costing less than $65,000).
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- The Best Credit Cards in Canada for 2018
- Top Credit Cards for Travel Insurance
- Credit Card Battle: Scotiabank Gold American Express vs. BMO World Elite MasterCard